By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D, Former President of the UL (2004-2008)
As an avid reader of the online version of the Liberian Observer, I was very surprised to peruse in its recent editorial about the current digitization of the University of Liberia (UL) that the Trustees of Donations for Education in Liberia (TDEL) was recently discovered by the UL and the Observer.
The truth of the matter is, almost every UL administration, since that of the university’s first President, Dr. J. Max Bond (1951-1954), has collaborated with the TDEL, according to its priority. Located in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the TDEL was founded in 1850 by a cadre of business and academic philanthropists to promote higher education in Liberia.
Since 1850, the Trustees have consistently provided support to Liberia College and its successor, the UL, with funds primarily from an endowment established then, as well as from additional private donations over the years. These funds have been used by successive UL managements to supplement some of their administrative and programmatic costs. For example, during the regime of Dr. Patrick L.N. Seyon (1992-1996), when the UL was recovering from total destruction from the initial wave of the Liberian civil war, the Trustees helped with the procurement of needed supplies, equipment, and the replacement of basic library reference books, which had been looted and were being resold in the local Monrovia market under the infamous soubriquet of “Buy Your Own Thing.”
I was then working with Dr. Seyon as a UNDP TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) consultant assigned to the UL. Those were egregiously painful times, indeed. There were barely any funds to operate the University. Nevertheless, the Seyon administration, with a group of dedicated scholars, some of whom have gone to great beyond, decided to press on with struts from the TDEL, to keep the UL open for the sake of
The TDEL’s benevolence continued during the Administration of Dr. Frederick Gbegbe (1996-1999). I served as Dr. Gbegbe’s Vice President for academic affairs. Our priority then was to procure consumable chemicals and basic equipment for introductory science courses and laboratories. There was a situation of no war no peace in the country, and Liberia was under a UN arms ban, certain dictates of which was that basic sulfuric acid used by our chemistry students to conduct their titration analyses were prohibited.
During our own administration, the work of the Trustees blossomed with many projects to support the UL library, training of teachers and affiliation of the UL with major universities, including Harvard (ideas to establish a university endowment), University of Pennsylvania (conference on strategic planning and fund raising), University of Indiana (collaboration with the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law), the Association of State Colleges and Universities (ASCU) in the United States (training of teacher trainers). Our most fruitful collaboration was the management of an endowment fund for the UL.
I hope this brief account elucidates some of the relationship between the TDEL and UL. Far from being recent, the UL-TDEL collaboration dates back to the Nineteenth Century, circa the founding of Liberia.